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HoR Passes Sweeping Health Care Reform Legislation

House Passes Sweeping Health Care Reform Legislation


Sunday 08 November 2009
by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

Saturday began with a morning pep talk from President Obama during a private meeting with Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill and a public appeal from the presidential podium in the Rose Garden shortly thereafter.

"Rise to this moment," said Obama, who has made health care reform his top domestic priority. "Answer the call of history...finish the job."

At around 11:15 p.m. EST, more than 12 hours after they began to debate the historic $1.1 trillion health care reform bill, Democrats had secured enough votes to pass the legislation, which would create a government-run plan known as a "public option" to compete with the private sector and extend affordable insurance to 36 millions of Americans who currently lack coverage. The measure would take effect by 2013.

The legislation passed by the thinnest of margins - 220 to 215 - with 39 Democrats voting against the plan and one Republican,
Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, (R-Louisiana), crossing party lines to vote with Democrats. Cao’s vote technically fulfills Obama’s pledge to get a bill passed with bipartisan support. The final roll call vote can be found here.

Thirty-one of the 39 Democrats who opposed the bill are from districts that Republican Senator John McCain won during last year's presidential election and a third are freshmen lawmakers, the New York Times reported.

"Nearly all of the fourteen freshmen Democrats who voted 'no' represent districts that were previously Republican and are considered vulnerable in 2010. Geographically, 22 lawmakers from southern states formed the largest opposition bloc."

In a statement, Cao said he voted in favor of the bill in order to "keep taxpayer dollars from funding abortion and to deliver access to affordable health care to the people of Louisiana.

"I read the versions of the House [health reform] bill," Cao said. "I listened to the countless stories of Orleans and Jefferson Parish citizens whose health care costs are exploding – if they are able to obtain health care at all. Louisianans needs real options for primary care, for mental health care, and for expanded health care for seniors and children."

This is the first time since 1965, when Congress passed legislation to create Medicare, that lawmakers have approved a bill to expand health care coverage.

In fact, to commemorate that historic day, Democrats gave
Rep. John Dingell, (D-Michigan), the longest serving member in the House, the gavel as lawmakers spent three hours establishing the terms of Saturday's debate.

The last time Dingell presided over the chamber was 1965, the year lawmakers approved the Medicare bill. Dingell's late father, who was also a Congressman, introduced a universal healh care bill in 1933 and, in 1955, when
Rep. Dingell replaced his father in Congress, he continued the tradition by introducing a national health insurance bill every year.

"Thanks to the hard work of the House, we are just two steps away from achieving health insurance reform in America," Obama said in a statement after the House passed the bill. "Now the United States Senate must follow suit and pass its version of the legislation. I am absolutely confident it will, and I look forward to signing comprehensive health insurance reform into law by the end of the year.”

The House bill requires that Americans purchase insurance by 2013, or pay a 2.5 percent penalty based on their annual income, subject to a "hardship exemption." It also mandates that large businesses provide employees with coverage.

The legislation would prohibit health insurance companies from denying coverage to people who have a preexisting condition. Additionally, the bill would eliminate the federal antitrust exemption that shields health care providers from investigations into price-fixing and other unlawful business practices.

To finance the bill, couples who earn more than $1 million annually and individuals who earn more than $500,000 would pay a 5.4 surtax and through changes to Medicare and Medicaid. The combined savings would generate about $500 billion over 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who was the sponsor of an amendment that would have allowed individual states to create a single-payer system - essentially a Medicare-for-all bill - voted against the legislation. Kucinich’s amendment was stripped from the House bill at the request of the Obama administration when it wasunveiled more than a week ago.

"Instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, HR 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care," Kucinich said in a statement explaining why he voted against the bill. "In HR 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies - a bailout under a blue cross.

The day was marked by fierce debate on both sides of the aisle. Republicans used fear-mongering tactics to try and derail the legislation, such as claiming that people who fail to purchase health care coverage, a requirement under the Democrats’ plan, would be prosecuted and jailed.

One Republican lawmaker,
Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona, went so far as to use a seven-month-old baby (the daughter of one of his staffers) as a prop.

"This is Maddie. Maddie believes in freedom,” Shadegg said during a floor debate. "Maddie likes America because we have freedom here. And Maddie believes in patient choice health care. She asked to come here today to say she doesn't want the government to take over health care. She wants to keep her plan."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Republicans should be embarrassed at their "shrill, dishonest rhetoric."

Securing the minimum 218 votes needed to pass the legislation, however, came at a cost.

Pro-life Democrats won a concession from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late Friday to vote on an anti-abortion amendment sponsored by
Rep. Bart Stupak, (D-Michigan), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition.

His provision, which passed by a vote of 240 to 194, with the support of 64 Democrats, bars the federal government from funding abortions via the public plan.

Democratic leaders indicated they will likely make serious changes to the amendment when they meet with Senate Democratic leaders to meld the House bill with the Senate bill.

--------

The 39 Democrats who voted against the House bill health care bill are:

Rep. John Adler (NJ)
Rep. Jason Altmire (PA)
Rep. Brian Baird (WA)
Rep. John Barrow (GA)
Rep. John Boccieri (OH)
Rep. Dan Boren (OK)
Rep. Rick Boucher (VA)
Rep. Allen Boyd (FL)
Rep. Bobby Bright (AL)
Rep. Ben Chandler (KT)
Rep. Travis Childers (MS)
Rep. Artur Davis (AL)
Rep. Lincoln Davis (TN)
Rep. Chet Edwards (TX)
Rep. Bart Gordon (TN)
Rep. Parker Griffith (AL)
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD)
Rep. Tim Holden (PA)
Rep. Larry Kissell (NC)
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (FL)
Rep. Frank Kratovil (MD)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH)
Rep. Jim Marshall (GA)
Rep. Betsy Markey (CO)
Rep. Eric Massa (NY)
Rep. Jim Matheson(UT)
Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC)
Rep. Michael McMahon (NY)
Rep. Charlie Melancon (LA)
Rep. Walt Minnick (ID)
Rep. Scott Murphy (NY)
Rep. Glenn Nye (VA)
Rep. Collin Peterson (MN)
Rep. Mike Ross (AR)
Rep. Heath Shuler (NC)
Rep. Ike Skelton (MO)
Rep. John Tanner (TN)
Rep. Gene Taylor (MS)
Rep. Harry Teague (NM)

*************

Jason Leopold is the Deputy Managing Editor at Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.

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